Rhubarb Pudding

Rhubarb Pudding

Proving the proverb that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, but I’ll admit that it’s not the most photogenic of desserts, even if I had remembered to take a photo before the spoons were grasped.

Down at the bottom of my garden the sturdy shoots of pink rhubarb, under their umbrellas of dark green leaves, have been responding to days on end of sunshine and to the contents of the rain water butt. Cooked within moments of being picked, this year’s croppings have already resulted in a few good bake mixes. Some recipes invite you to cook and sweeten your rhubarb before adding it to the other ingredients but I prefer to leave it au naturel and experience the exquisite burst of tartness embedded within the sweet surrounding dough, such a decadent pleasure.

This recipe makes a pudding or a cake or individual muffins.

  1. Cream together 120g butter or vegetable margarine and 170g soft brown sugar. For added richness I like to use muscovado sugar, which resists amalgamation, but melting the butter and sugar gently together while stirring briskly is worth the faff.
  2. Mix in a quarter of a teaspoon of ground ginger. Yes, only a quarter, for a subtle buzz. I have had a go at alternatives here such as a few drops of vanilla or almond essence, but again keeping it mean, letting the rhubarb’s light shine.
  3. Mix in the grated zest of one lemon.
  4. Add 3 beaten eggs.
  5. Mix in 100g soured cream.
  6. Fold in 170g self-raising flour (or, for the wheat-fearing, spelt flour with a teaspoon of baking powder).
  7. Fold in 200g rhubarb sliced into 1cm pieces.
  8. Put the mixture into a pudding dish, cake tin, or muffin tin depending on what you decide you are going to call it. This decision will also affect the oven temperature and length of cooking time. I would recommend a little lower temperature and a little longer than you would bake a Victoria sandwich cake.

The above can be followed conscientiously and meditatively, or steps 1-5 can be achieved all at one, carefree, rapturous, go in the food processor, but the flour needs as little mixing as possible, so as not to beat the air out of it, just a few pulses, and the rhubarb pieces just a pulse or two so as not to lose their identity.

I served the pudding, warm, with spoonfuls of crème fraiche, to a recent jolly gathering which included a poet from Bloomsbury, who savoured a second helping and said some appreciative words, although they did not rhyme.

Socca

946 Socca

The word “conviviality” derives from the Latin word for “feast” and hints at the Latin words for “living with”. In French the word for “friend” is “copain”, derived from the Latin words for eating bread together. The recent troubling events in France, the home of gastronomic excellence and inevitably consequent conviviality, make us want no more threats to the French people’s ability to continue to feast and live together in comfort and harmony with their friends and neighbours. If anyone is contemplating starting up a Feasting For Peace movement I shall, with alacrity, apply to be considered for the post of local Branch Membership Secretary.

After years of looking out for “chick pea flour” I have discovered that it is marketed under other names (yes, all right, I could have tried harder) and I have purchased a bag of “gram flour”. At last I can attempt to bring back those fragrant holiday memories of the street market in Nice on the Côte d’Azur, where from a wide cast iron pan set over a wood fire in a tin drum comes forth the fastest and best of fast foods, the “socca”, a tasty chick pea flour pancake folded into a crisp-edged floppy cone, to take the edge, and more, off an appetite whipped up by the sea breeze sweeping the sunlit length of the Promenade des Anglais.

“Cuisine Niçoise” (first published in English in 1983) is an engaging compendium of culture and cookery compiled by allegedly crooked politician and former mayor of Nice, Jacques Médecin. He tells us that socca used to sustain the builders constructing the city’s fine buildings. It was the job of the site’s “bochou” (gofer) to listen for the cry of the itinerant socca vendor and to ensure his hungry co-workers got some before it cooled.

Simply combine equal volumes of chick pea flour and water, add some olive oil and some salt, mix to a smooth batter, leave it to stand for 15 minutes, then pour a ladleful into your hot frying pan that is already sizzling with a little olive oil.

I used 250ml of flour with 250ml of water plus 25ml of olive oil (additional oil is needed for frying the pancakes) and a teaspoon of salt. This amount made about six dinner-plate sized thin pancakes.

Jacques Médecin proposes, if there be no wood fire readily available, pouring the mixture into an oiled baking tin to a depth of 2-3mm and placing it under a hot grill, piercing blisters as they form, until it is well browned, almost burnt in parts, and then cutting it into 5cm squares and serving while still hot, with pepper. I will try this method next time, because frying pancakes has its tense moments, but I was after the floppy cone experience this time.

And yes it did bring back those holiday memories, on a sunny British winter lunchtime. Lovely just naked, plain and simple, but I note that there are a number of suggestions, from various parts of the world, on offer if you search for “chick pea pancake”, the only limit being the horizons of your own imagination.

Salut les copains!